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Is Online Porn Making Us Kinkier IRL?

The internet seems to have made people with an incipient interest in BDSM and kinky sex more comfortable exploring it.

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Jul 1 2016, 1:00pm

Image: Shutterstock

The past decade has seen two major, and potentially related, trends: the mainstreaming of the internet and an increasing comfortability with talking about sex. There's no question that these two things are intertwined. The internet has made it easier to learn about sex, which in turn has decreased the stigma of talking about and–gasp!–admitting we're all doing it.

But as the internet's made us more comfortable chatting about pegging and choking, has it actually made us more interested in going down the weird sex rabbit hole? Is the internet turning previously vanilla couples into sex crazed kinksters IRL, like the plot of a porn parody of The Ring?

The idea that technology is changing our sex lives is a pretty popular one. Page through any popular publication and you'll quickly find a thinkpiece arguing (contrary to actual fact) that Tinder and smartphones are turning us into a bunch of remorseless sluts. And the notion that tech is changing not just how frequently, and with whom, we have sex, but also what kind of sex we're having has been the basis of many a personal essay lamenting unwanted rough sex, butt stuff, and other non-vanilla acts.

Yet it seems unlikely that the internet's spontaneously creating kinky desires in previously vanilla people. While the jury's still out on what, exactly, makes us into shoes or butts or giant dildos, it's pretty much accepted that for most of us, sexual tastes are established fairly early in life. And once they're established, they're not that easy to change (as legions of failed ex-gays and "virtuous pedophiles" can attest). If the idea of rough sex leaves you completely cold, it's unlikely that stumbling on Kink.com in your twenties is going to totally shift your view. If you're into it, you're into it; if you're not, you're not. While there's some room for exploration and evolution, 180-degree shifts in sexual tastes are really pretty rare.

The internet has made would-be kinksters feel less alone and less ashamed

What is plausible, on the other hand, is that the internet's made people with an incipient interest in BDSM and kinky sex more comfortable owning up to it and exploring it. As Erin Kennedy, a sex educator and long-time BDSM practitioner who blogs at Sex For The Rest, told me, "Sex has always been kinky." Kennedy feels that vanilla sex—the lights off, missionary position banging all "normal" couples are supposedly engaged in—has never been a reality, and even the most cursory research suggests she's probably right.

Most of our "modern" sexual interests, including BDSM, pegging, and sex toys, date back thousands of years; writers and photographers throughout the centuries have documented instances of kinky sex. Even a magazine as mainstream as Cosmopolitan was hip to blindfolds and handcuffs long before the internet. In other words, the idea that kinky sex is a creation of modern technology is laughable at best.

But while the interest in kink may have been with us all this time, it hasn't always been easy to find willing partners to explore kink with, or to find a community that offers a supportive environment for the exploration and discussion of kink. And that's where the internet has undoubtedly played an important role.

For Kennedy, the 2008 launch of kink social networking site FetLife had a transformative effect on the experience of being kinky and, more importantly, the public perception of kink. While kinksters had long used the internet to find one other (setting up Yahoo! groups, or posting ads on Collar Me or Alt.com), FetLife offered more than just a dating site or a way to get laid. It offered a sense of community, and a way for kink practitioners take their interests and practices out of the bedrooms and into the (semi) public eye.

"It's not that nobody was [kinky]," Kennedy said. "It's that we didn't know anybody was doing it, because everyone was doing it in their bedrooms and not talking about it."

And it's that kind of effect that's likely driven the impression that as a culture we are getting kinkier. As the internet's made it easier to find information about kinky sex and to connect with other kinky people, it's made would-be kinksters feel less alone, less ashamed, and more comfortable acting on—and coming out about—their desires.

So has the internet made us kinkier? It depends what, exactly, you're asking. Did Kink.com and FetLife transform a generation of vanilla youngsters into raging kinkaholics who can't get off without licking shoes and pegging each other's brains out? Definitely not. But did they make it easier for those with an interest in, or even mild curiosity about kink to learn more, discuss the topic more freely, and find people who might be interested in exploring? Absolutely. And frankly, that's something to be celebrated.